Bonhams to auction £20k 'Baby House'

Alongside a £50k sculpture of Peter Pan, another icon of childhood - a rare carved mahogany "Baby House" - will feature in Bonhams' Fine English Furniture and Works of Art sale on November 18.

The Forser Baby House is a rare George II Palladian carved mahogany Baby House with an interior designed by Oliver Ford, decorator for the late Queen Mother. 

It boasts a three-storey facade with eight glazed windows. It stands 135cm wide, 66cm deep, 206cm high (53" wide, 25.5" deep, 81" high), and is estimated to sell for £15,000 to £20,000.

The Baby House's history links it possibly with Elizabeth and Sarah Forster at Grove House, Tottenham.

Therefore, in descent order, it is linked to: William Edward Forster, Chief Secretary to Ireland (1818-1886); his daughter Florence Vere O'Brien; her granddaughter, Elinor Wiltshire; and Christopher Gibbs Ltd, from whom it was purchased by the father of the vendor.

A rare George II Palladian carved mahogany Baby House
'Baby Houses' often contained silver toys, carpets, curtains and dressed dolls

The house has been exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London, July 1984 to February 1998, and at the Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair as an entrance exhibit.

The provenance of the Forster Baby House is supported by a letter held on file at the Museum of Childhood, written in 1971, by the then-owner of the baby house, Irish photographer and botanist Elinor Wiltshire.

The letter is written to Desmond Fitz-Gerald, the Knight of Glin, at which time he was a curator at the V & A Museum.

The earliest known baby houses date from the 16th century, and were essentially cabinet display cases made up of rooms, with miniature household items for the use of adults. They were not necessarily made to scale.

Vivien Greene, in her book English Dolls' Houses (1955), drew a distinction between toy doll's houses and the great houses built by estate carpenters as a hobby for adults.

Baby houses might have contained silver 'toys' and carpets and curtains which were made by the owners, while the dolls would be dressed by them. These were almost always kept on an upper landing, under lock and key.

Horace Walpole, writing in 1750, says of Frederick Prince of Wales, 'The Prince is building baby houses at Kew', Frederick apparently became fascinated by them after visiting the Dowager Duchess of Brunswick, who was trying to reproduce the entire court in miniature.

The sale will take place at Bonhams in New Bond St, London.

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